Biglaw, Fashion, Fashion Is Fun, Intellectual Property, Kenyon & Kenyon, Trademarks

A Top Law School Tells a High-End Fashion House Where to Stick Its Cease and Desist Letter

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Fashion law is a quickly-growing specialty practice area — a place where lawyers can aspire to dress stylishly while honing their legal skills in the glamorous world of haute couture law. You may never see all of the models and bottles a career in law once guaranteed, but you might get to work on their contracts.

A lawyer working in the business of beauty can expect to do a great deal of intellectual property work (after all, trademark law is sexier when you’re doing it in designer duds). An IP student group at a leading law school took that to heart, and decided to hold a symposium on the topic of fashion law.

The students pulled out all the stops for the event: they got Biglaw sponsorship, they created an eye-catching flyer, and they lined up some of the greats of the fashion law world to speak. Needless to say, they expected a great turnout.

What they didn’t expect was to be on the receiving end of a cease and desist letter from a high-end fashion house….

The T14 law school in question is the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and the Fashion Law symposium was to be put on by the Penn Intellectual Property Group (PIPG) on March 20, 2012.

Why on earth did a bunch of budding IP law attorneys receive a cease and desist letter? Check out the event flyer and you’ll see:

Hmm, that design looks a familiar — a little too familiar, according to Michael Pantalony, the Director of Civil Enforcement for French fashion house Louis Vuitton. Pantalony sent a C&D letter to Penn Law’s Dean Michael Fitts on February 29, a letter that the Volokh Conspiracy dubbed as a “nastygram.” Why so nasty?

Among claims of “serious willful infringement” and “knowing[] dilu[tion],” Pantalony threw in this little gem:

Pantalony’s full C&D letter is available here (via Volokh). As you can imagine, the powers that be at Penn Law were not pleased. Nobody calls Penn Law students stupid and gets away with it. In response, Robert Firestone, Associate General Counsel for Penn Law, took Pantalony and laid down the law — literally.

Firestone not only gave Pantalony a two-page verbal beatdown (available here), but he also included citation to the last time Louis Vuitton lost a fair use / parody case. He then concluded his letter by inviting Pantalony to attend the Fashion Law symposium (because that wouldn’t be incredibly embarrassing for him).

Will Louis Vuitton stand down in the face of Penn Law’s superior legal minds? We shall soon see, but in the meantime, PIPG might need to seek monetary donations from more Biglaw firms so the show can go on.

The symposium was originally sponsored by several firms, including Kenyon & Kenyon and Fox Rothschild, with additional support from Covington & Burling and Finnegan. Unofficial sources, however, tell us that once Finnegan caught wind of Pantalony’s C&D letter, the firm requested that their sponsorship be removed from the event flyer. When we asked PIPG to confirm, the group insisted on keeping its relationships with its sponsors confidential.

We don’t see Finnegan’s logo on the flyer anymore… do you? Compare the original version of the flyer, posted at the Volokh Conspiracy, with the current version, posted on the conference website.

Looks like it’s “case clothesed” for this fashion law investigation.

UPDATE (3/6/12): A tipster notes that because Louis Vuitton is a Finnegan client, it is unlikely that the firm pulled its sponsorship because it “caught wind of Pantalony’s C&D letter.” The more likely scenario, our tipster claims, is that Louis Vuitton asked the firm to renege on its sponsorship deal.

Penn Law School Rejects Louis Vuitton Nastygram [Volokh Conspiracy]
Louis Vuitton sends absurd cease-and-desist letter to Penn Law over student event flyer (and more fun with trademark abuse!) [Law of Fashion]
Symposium on Fashion Law [Penn Intellectual Property Group]

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